Polluted Storm Water Runoff To Go On Trial

Clean water advocates seek stronger pollution control and development standards


Sue Joerger, Puget Soundkeeper Alliance (206) 297-7002

Jan Hasselman, Earthjustice, (206) 343-7340 ext. 25

­Mike Sato, People For Puget Sound, (206) 229-2844

Conservation groups today appealed Washington State’s recently issued permits for Western Washington allowing discharges of polluted stormwater runoff into the state’s streams, rivers and bays.  The groups will ask the state Pollution Control Hearings Board to order the Department of Ecology to substantially strengthen the permits to protect clean water, salmon, and healthy watersheds, especially in Puget Sound.

“Stormwater—runoff from roads, rooftops, and other developed areas—is the number one water quality problem in Puget Sound,” said Sue Joerger with Puget Soundkeeper Alliance. Stormwater carried heavy loads of toxic pollutants like dissolved metal, pesticides, oil and grease, and other chemicals directly into rivers and streams. “Until we clean up stormwater, recovering Puget Sound will remain an elusive goal.” 

In urban and urbanizing areas, stormwater is generally dumped through municipal storm sewer systems directly into nearby streams, lakes or bays without treatment.  Under the federal Clean Water Act and state pollution laws, Washington state Department of Ecology is required to regulate this pollution to the maximum extent possible and in a way that protects water quality. 

“The state is required to do everything it can to reduce this pollution,” said Jan Hasselman, an attorney with Earthjustice.  “But this permit maintains a failed status quo that has brought Puget Sound to the edge of disaster.”

The main flaw in the permit is that it relies on expensive, ineffective engineering methods to treat or slow down stormwater, rather than adopting methods that eliminate stormwater runoff altogether by infiltrating the water before it runs off.  Such “green development” standards have been adopted in other jurisdictions, and represent Puget Sound’s best hope to move towards recovery.   Experience using these techniques shows that runoff can be partially or completely eliminated.

“Green development—permeable concretes, increased forest cover, and rain gardens—might just be the one thing that saves salmon and orcas and the other species that rely on Puget Sound,” said Kathy Fletcher of People For Puget Sound. 

The permit is also flawed in other respects, such as completely exempting all smaller development projects, heavily urbanized areas, and areas outside urban growth boundaries.  “Everyone should be doing their fair share,” continued Joerger.  “We’ve ratcheted down on industrial pollution and it’s time for the cities and counties to take responsibility for the pollution that their regulations allow.”  

The appeal was filed with the Pollution Control Hearings Board in Olympia, by Puget Soundkeeper Alliance and People For Puget Sound.  They are represented by attorneys Jan Hasselman and Todd True of Earthjustice, and Richard Smith of Smith and Lowney. 

Read a report on this issue in the Seattle Times

Additional Resources

About Earthjustice

Earthjustice is the premier nonprofit environmental law organization. We wield the power of law and the strength of partnership to protect people's health, to preserve magnificent places and wildlife, to advance clean energy, and to combat climate change. We are here because the earth needs a good lawyer.